In the world of sports, theres no better get-well card than a blowout victory. After an injurious Labor Day opener in which it lost three starters for the season, the University of Memphis football team got healthy Saturday night by whipping the Chattanooga Mocs, 59-14, at the Liberty Bowl. But just as the win must be qualified as being over a Division I-AA opponent, there were some good news/bad news twists to the Tiger triumph.
GOOD NEWS: DeAngelo Williams will play some games as a man among boys. What a night Williams had -- 118 yards, two touchdowns -- in the first quarter(!) against the Mocs. (He finished the game with 205 yards and three scores.) Williams even found holes while taking snaps at quarterback. He completed a pass in the second quarter, only to have it nullified by a penalty. (Quipped Tiger coach Tommy West after the game, I promised DeAngelo that if he came back his senior year, Id let him throw a pass. Youve seen it.) Credit the U of M coaching staff for finding another way to get the ball in the hands of their moneymaker.
BAD NEWS: Saturday nights performance is a primary reason Williams will not win the Heisman Trophy. Too many national pundits -- and Heisman voters -- will point to his 205 yards Saturday night being at the expense of inferior competition. And this wont be the last game where this is the case. Hard truth for a football star in Conference USA.
GOOD NEWS: Will Hudgens will win some games with his arm. Ive always considered the short out pattern the primary test for a quarterbacks arm strength. The ball must be delivered with extra pace -- and for a deceptively long distance -- to avoid a pickoff by the defense. Hudgens passed my test with a second-quarter completion to Carlton Robinzine, a seven-yard gain that didnt raise any eyebrows from the 30,772 in attendance.
BAD NEWS: Accuracy is as important as arm strength for a quarterback, and Hudgens still requires some game experience to learn his receivers speed and route tendencies. He misfired to a couple of wide-open receivers Saturday night. Back in the world of I-A football, wide-open receivers grow scarce. When youve got two freshmen quarterbacks, said West, youre gonna be a team that makes corrections every week. We gotta make sure we dont make the same mistakes.
GOOD NEWS: The Tigers held Chattanooga to 105 passing yards after giving up 207 in their opener against Ole Miss.
BAD NEWS: Memphis gave up 227 rushing yards to the Mocs after holding the Rebels to a mere 55. I was disappointed in our run defense, stressed West. Chattanooga really brought the fight to us there up front. Weve got to look at that. To say this defense is searching for its identity is to say Joe Lee Dunn is animated.
GOOD NEWS: The Tigers next five opponents -- Tulsa, UTEP, UCF, Houston, and East Carolina -- are all eminently beatable. Forget the one-week-at-a-time mantra of every living coach and the objective of Wests staff should be entering the November 1st UAB game with a record of 6-1.
BAD NEWS: If the Tigers do reel off six straight, theyll still be on the outside of the Top 25, looking in. The 2005 Memphis schedule is back-loaded, with UAB, Tennessee, Southern Miss, and Marshall all coming after Halloween. A five-week calm, you might say, before a four-week, bowl-qualifying storm.
Its shaping up to be a compelling football season in the Mid-South. Arkansas gave up more points to USC than its basketball team would, it seems Tennessee either has two quarterbacks or no quarterbacks, and Vanderbilt is undefeated. With so much attention on the neighborhood programs, Memphis should be making its own news in the weeks ahead, both good and bad.